Qatar on Monday kicked off the final round in the longest legal bout in the history of the World Court when it opened arguments in a tense territorial dispute with Bahrain.
The dispute focused on Doha's claim to the Hawar islands and Fasht al-Dibel rocks, potentially rich in oil and gas reserves and held by Bahrain since the 1930s, and Manama's claim to the Zubara strip on Qatar's coast.
Oral arguments were scheduled to take five weeks, with a judgment expected in four to six months' time in a case first taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on July 8, 1991.
In opening arguments Monday, Qatar's Abdullah bin Abdulatif al-Muslemani submitted satellite photographs to support his argument that, under the "principle of proximity," the Hawar islands belonged to Doha.
The photographs showed the islands nearly touching the west coast of Qatar, at some distance from Bahrain.
He alleged recent construction of both military and civilian buildings were an attempt by Bahrain to give the impression that the Hawar islands "have become an important economic location for Bahrain."
Muslemani, a member of the court of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, meanwhile dismissed Bahrain's claim over Zubara as "artificial."
Bahrain, not scheduled to start presenting its case until next week, was expected to argue that Qatar's claims involved nearly one-third of Bahrain's territory.
"Qatar is confident that this court will find an equitable delimination ... (so as to) finally solve a dispute that has strained relations between our nations," Muslemani said.
The row dates back to 1939 when Britain granted the Bahraini archipelago ownership of small islands including the Hawar, which Manama has been turning into a tourism resort. Qatar, a peninsula, has long contested the British decision.
The dispute almost degenerated into armed conflict in 1986, but King Fahd of Saudi Arabia stepped in to contain the crisis. The United Arab Emirates tried in vain to mediate an accord, and a last-ditch effort to reach an amicable settlement failed.
The two countries did agree to exchange ambassadors and start flights to Manama by Qatar's national carrier, but plans to build a causeway between the two states were put on hold.
Tensions rose over the past week meanwhile as Manama and Doha traded charges -- THE HAGUE, (AFP)
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